[OPE-L:710] Re: LTV an assumption?

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 12 Dec 1995 00:32:12 -0800

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Greetings to fellow list members after a long hiatus. I was waylaid
by the flu virus from hell the very week that discussion on OPE-L
exploded, so I fell significantly behind and have been looking for a
place to re-enter the discussion. A response to the following
comment by Fred (hi, Fred) seems like a good place to start, since it
is the starting point of the critical agenda I would like to see
pursued (and it also suggests the reason why I feel that we should not skip
Part I of Capital V.I).

Fred writes in response to Steve Keen:

> 1. Marx's analysis of the commodity is based on two methodological
> presuppositions:
> a. Capitalism should be analyzed in terms of its objective characteristics.
> b. The commodity is analyzed as a GENERAL EQUIVALENT to all other
> commodities.
> (You have indicated I believe that you agree at least in part with this
> statement.)
> 2. Marx then argued that the general equivalence of commodities requires
> which their equivalence is determined.
> 3. Marx quoted Aristotle approvingly on these two points:
> There can be no exchange without equality,
> and no equality without commensurability. (C.I. 151)
because there
> is no way to reduce any of these useful qualities to a homogeneous unit of
> measure; i.e. that there are not and cannot be meaningfully made to be
> commensurable.

The problem here is that both Marx and Aristotle are wrong, having
committed a fundamental logical error (or rather, Aristotle committed
the error and Marx followed him). As Fred's own wording
suggests, a system of exchange establishes a relationship of
*equivalence*, not *equality*, the difference being precisely that
one cannot infer from the former that elements of an equivalence set
contain any other "common property" (much less "common, homogeneous
property") other than that which placed them in the set--in this
case, paraphrasing Marx, that x boot-polish, y silk, and z gold are
all equivalent in being exchanged for a quarter of wheat.

For example, Oslo, Norway, Avesta, Sweden, and Kronshtadt, Russia are
equivalent in lying within a certain distance of the 60th parallel.
But even if the parallel ran right through the middle of each of them, one
could not conclude that these entities share some other "common

Another example, closer to home. Assume for a moment that Marx does
not simply assume his conclusion in the argument beginning Chapter 1
of Volume I; that is, suppose he has not limited the discussion at
the outset *by fiat* to exchangeables which are the product of labor.
Nothing in the logical structure of Marx's argument from exchange
rules out the following parallel conclusion: suppose a quarter of wheat
exchanges for x boot-polish, y silk, or z unimproved land. Then by exactly
parallel reasoning, and I quote, "[t]herefore x boot-polish, y silk,
z [unimproved land]...must, as exchange values, be mutually
replaceable {which by the way, also doesn't follow, except under
very strict market conditions} or of identical magnitude."

OK, so there must then be some "common element" that unimproved land
shares with boot-polish and silk, by which this "identical magnitude"
may be measured....but it can't be labor! Ooops.

Since this first premise of Marx's argument falls, the rest of it is
irrelevant. Thus there is no basis in Marx's argument of Chapter 1
for the conclusion that the basis of exchange value is "congealed
human labour."

Further: 1) It is not a response to say that Marx addresses the
question of the exchange value of non-products of labor later, say in
that cryptic and most un-materialist passage in chapter 3 discussing
"imaginary prices." The *present* argument is fallacious.

2) The alternative justification Marx emphasizes in his famous 1868
letter to Kugelmann doesn't solve the problem, either. At best it
establishes the need for a sort of mutual consistency for the price
system relative to the system of production as represented in labor
terms, which assumes the intrinsic relevance of the latter measure.

3) Later commentators like Rubin don't address the question; they
beg it. Rubin for example speaks of the "well-known fact about the
commodity economy,...that all commodities can be equalized with each
other." This "well-known" fact is well-reiterated nonsense.

Gil Skillman